Camp and COVID-19 05.26.20

Why We Are Contributing Back a Sizable Portion of What We Paid for Camp

By Rabbi David Gedzelman

Today, our kids’ overnight camp, Camp Young Judaea Sprout Lake, announced the very difficult decision to cancel this summer’s camping season. Our kids pretty much expected this but it is such a blow to them and to us. We believe the camp made the right decision and has been transparent and clear throughout the last few months leading up to this. There’s much to say about the special magic of camp and of Jewish camp in particular. There’s much to mourn for and to hope for as our kids’ memories of this summer might spur them on to appreciate even more everything they are blessed with and to understand what a unique gift the Jewish camping experience is for them once they have it back.

We pay for camp in 8 equal payments starting in October before the summer of camp. This amounts to many thousands of dollars for us. Camps are giving parents the choice of getting all their money back, deferring it to pay for next year, or donating a portion of it back to the camp. At first, when we contemplated this outcome, we reasoned that we would need the bulk of our money back in order to pay for an alternative experience — specifically Airbnb rentals to give our kids time in the outdoors away from the city in places with easy access to water for swimming and fun. I argued that we had paid for something that hadn’t been delivered and therefore it was our money to demand back. But as I talked with a range of camp professionals in the context of my work trying to understand the impact of camp not running this summer, it became clear that in fact our kids’ camp and all camps had made good use of our money in preparing for another magical summer for our kids.

The camping world has been working all year round to get to the point of opening. Year long staff have been busy planning, training and preparing. Year long fixed costs don’t go away. Yes, camps will save the summer’s direct costs representing between 50 and 60 percent of their annual expense budgets by not running camp. But the other 40 to 50 percent of their budgets, most of which comes from earned revenue, has already been spent. In good faith, they spent 40 to 50 percent of the money we paid getting ready to give our kids another amazing summer. They didn’t take our money and run. Nobody got rich in some kind of scheme. They spent it on what we asked them to spend it on. 40 to 50 percent of what we’ve paid to camp isn’t ours to ask for back. It would be wrong to do so.

So we are contributing back a good portion of what we already paid, not as an act of charity or pity, not because we’re so noble, but because it wouldn’t be ethical for us to claim it as our own. It’s already been spent on our kids. It’s not ours to ask for. I hope our many friends in similar situations will make a similar decision and give the camps that have embraced and nurtured their children year after year a fighting chance to survive this challenge and be there for them in the future.


Rabbi David Gedzelman lives in Harlem, New York City, with his wife Judith Turner and their three children, Nomi, Anina and Ziv who attend Young Judaea Sprout Lake Camp and are proud graduates of Camp Ramah in Nyack. David is the CEO of the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life.